Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

Chapter 6 extends this analysis to the Progressive era. During this period the severity of industrial unrest was recognized, and engineers established themselves as arbiters of industrial conflicts. They perceived themselves as gatekeepers situated at the junction between politics and economics and offered management systems -- to manufacturers and the public at large -- as a solution to political instability. The chapter shows how system discourse gradually replaced the explicit ideological discourse, the process resulting in the depoliticization of the labor struggle.

Chapter 7 summarizes the genealogy of management ideology from the Civil War until the Great Depression, and emphasizes the conflictive biography of management rhetoric and practice. The chapter further points to the cultural idiosyncrasy of American management and provides an international comparative framework. The chapter ends with the argument that much of management and organization theory is epistemologically infused with the ideological parameters that were born during the efforts to establish the legitimization of management. This is illustrated with a discussion of three key managerial concepts, 'system', 'rationality, and 'uncertainty', and their canonization in organization theory.


Notes
1
The concept of 'rationality' is heavily discussed and debated in philosophical, sociological, and historical literature. For critical discussion on rationality see Toulmin 1990; for a critical discussion of 'modernity' see Albrow 1996; Pippin 1991; Foucault 1977. Throughout this book I tend to avoid an a-priori definition of 'rationality', and rather treat it as a cultural and historical product (i.e. artifact), a version that evolved and developed empirically in engineering and managerial texts. See Chapter 7 for discussion on the institutionalized version of managerial and organizational rationality.
2
The cradle of the concept 'managerial revolution' can be found in the 1932 publication of The Modern Corporation and Private Property, a book that was hailed by the New York Herald Tribune as 'the most important work bearing on American state craft between the publication of the immortal Federalist and the opening of the year 1933' ( Stigler and Friedland 1983: 241). The authors of this book, Adolph Berle and Gardiner Means, made two novel observations that challenged economic theories of capitalism in America in the late 1920s. First, they observed a dispersion of ownership and the greater prominence of financial institutions. In other words, the control of family capitalism -- which was fairly strong in American corporations until the early 1900s -- was gradually being eroded. Second, they observed that a new group (some would say 'class') of professional people succeeded in developing an autonomous agenda that was significantly different from that of owners ( Berle and Means 1932: 124; see also Berle 1959; Sklar 1988). They envisioned businessschool educated professionals -- rather than owners -- in the role of corporate managers, 'relegating "owners" to the position of those who supply the means

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